By Tom Mendelsohn

A man in a wetsuit leaps off a speeding boat straight into the crystal-blue waters off Borneo

Scroll down for the full story

Videographer / Director: Scubazoo
Producer: Tom Gillespie, Nick Johnson
Editor: Jack Stevens

You're mine! A researcher catches a turtle to tag and monitor it

There’s a quick struggle underwater before he emerges victorious, holding his flapping prize aloft. He’s turtle-wrangling – on a vital message to save a species.

They’ve been on Earth for over 100 million years but marine turtles are amongst the most endangered animals on the planet.

 

He's coming for you: Bertie Gekoski dives in after an escaping turtle

And in order to save them, they need to be caught so they can be tagged, measured, weighed, sexed and released.

Global turtle expert Dr Nick Pilcher, who loves them so much he’s earned the nickname ‘Dr Turtle’, is a pioneer of turtle-wrangling, and it’s instrumental in preserving their population.

Coming out of his shell: The turtle poses for a picture with the researcher

All seven turtle species are listed either as ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’, as around the world they are accidentally caught by fishing trawlers, or hunted deliberately for their meat, shells and skin.

This time around, Dr Pilcher is joined in Borneo, a major turtle habitat, by Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski - presenter of the YouTube series Borneo from Below, by Scubazoo - who’s helping him carry out his vital - and tricky - conservation work.

The researchers are careful to catch the small animals

Bertie - presenter  - said: “I had no idea how difficult it was going to be just catching the turtles. 

"You have to get everything right: timing the jump, judging the distance from the surface to the turtle, keeping hold of a wriggly, slippery animal. And turtles are incredibly powerful!

“I think I only caught a handful in about 30 attempts and ached for days after. Because of Dr. Pilcher we now understand so much more about these turtle populations so the aches and pains were well worth it.”

 

All turtles are 'endangered' or 'critically endangered'
A turtle is released after being tagged

And while they aren’t happy to be caught, Bertie insists that the turtles recover quickly from the experience of being tagged, and that it’s the least stressful way to do it.

“As Dr Pilcher mentions, no one would like being jumped on and then tackled by someone in a wetsuit. But turtle wrangling is widely thought to be the most effective way of catching turtles and causes them the least amount of stress compared to other capture methods.

Turtle-wrangling is hard work but essential for the animal's survival

“Turtles were around before the dinosaurs - over 100 million years - and have survived mass extinctions. They are incredibly resilient animals so this is small fry in terms of the bigger picture.”

Dr Pilcher is the founder of the Marine Research Foundation, a non-profit which aims to save marine life across Asia.

His work, all conducted with the permission of the government, has already gone a long way towards preserving turtles, as have his efforts with Turtle Excluder Devices, which allows them to escape fishermen’s nets without affecting the catch – hopefully saving thousands of them from drowning every year.

Turtles are hunted for their meat, shells and skin

His work, all conducted with the permission of the government, has already gone a long way towards preserving turtles, as have his efforts with Turtle Excluder Devices, which allows them to escape fishermen’s nets without affecting the catch – hopefully saving thousands of them from drowning every year.

Gotcha! A researcher holds a turtle aloft after successfully capturing one

Watch previous episodes of the weekly series Borneo from Below on www.borneofrombelow.com

Scubazoo is an award-winning independent production company, specialising in filming natural history and factual programmes, based in Malaysian Borneo.

 

The researchers carry out vital research to ensure turtles' survival